Despite being denied an official place on the agenda for last Thursday afternoon’s Board of Regents Academic/Student Affairs and Research subcommittee meeting in Scholes Hall, proponents of the movement to abolish UNM's seal were in attendance.
Members of Kiva Club, The Red Nation, and others from the UNM community were afforded the opportunity to address the Regents during the public comments portion of the meeting.
The reason the group was formally denied a spot on the agenda, Regent Bradley Hosmer said, “is because we were unable to find anyone to appear to present other points of view.”
At the conclusion of an administrative report concerning such issues as degree production, retention and graduation rates, University Provost Chaouki Abdallah said he thinks UNM is providing the space to have these conversations.
Over the course of a century, the seal of the University of New Mexico has been presented in seven different forms, said Virginia Scharff, associate provost for Faculty Development and Interdisciplinary and International Initiative.
She said over time the institution has changed an enormous amount, and that the process of rethinking what represents it should come as no surprise.
“We know that many of you are here because you have expressed your view that the current seal in use sends a message of exclusion, and a silencing of indigenous presence,” she said. “We are grateful for the opportunity to see our seal anew through your eyes.”
Scharff said the movement is a recent rising in a generation-long struggle for Civil Rights that has made America the “place it needs to be.”
“So as one generation gives way to another, and our history poses new challenges and possibilities, we have used many symbols to say who and what we are as a University, and as a nation, and it’s important that our symbols reflect our community and its values,” Scharff said in the introduction to a presentation on the seal’s history by the Division for Equity and Inclusion (DEI).
“So this is a moment for us to demonstrate our commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion, and to the development of a process that will embody our respect for tradition and embrace our diverse cultures and establish a vision for the future.”
Jozi De Leon, vice president of DEI, said the Board of Regents has been given the power to not only establish a common seal, but also to alter it at their own discretion. She gave a brief presentation on the history of the seal, which first appeared in 1898, without depictions of human-figures, closely resembling the New Mexican Territorial seal at the time.
It wasn’t until sometime between 1909-1912 that depictions of the Conquistador and Frontiersman appeared on renderings of the seal alongside Spanish, French and what were believed to be Native American symbols, De Leon said in her presentation.
The seal was not officially adopted until 1923, then registered and trademarked in 1999, she said.
De Leon read an excerpt from a letter written to then-University President Richard Peck in 1991 regarding the seal, saying “we should review the banner, it exhibits two white-European males, no females, and they’re holding military arms in traditional male garb. This symbol completely overlooks the fact that women and Native-Americans were very much present in the region before the arrival of the European.”
Hosmer opened the floor to public comment at which time several members of the Kiva Club proceeded to issue separate statements to the Regents.
Alicia Romero, a post-doctoral fellow with Inclusive Excellence at UNM, said the seal is a worn-out trope that attempts to portray Native-Americans as “the vanished race”. She said the seal sends a clear message as far as “who is and isn’t welcome.”
Former Albuquerque City Councilor Rey Garduno said that before a respectful, constructive dialogue surrounding this issue can ensue, the disrespect inherent to the seal must first be removed.
“As long as UNM holds on this kind of heraldry, there will be no change, and, as (Hosmer) asked if we could have a respectful dialogue so that we can come to a place where we agree,” he said, “As long as those things are held, there will be no respectful dialogue.”
Departing Associated Students of UNM President Jenna Hagengruber was in attendance, and introduced president-elect Kyle Biederwolf to the Regents. Last year, toward the end of her term as vice president, ASUNM unanimously passed a resolution in support of abolishing the current iteration of the seal, she said.
However, resolutions only last for the term in which they were written.
“So, after May, I think it kind of fell by the wayside, but I think, during my time in ASUNM, especially as president, something that I’ve learned is that a lot of students come and ask us ‘How do you feel about this?’ and at the end of the day it’s not necessarily that they want to just come in and make all these changes, it is that they want to be heard,” she said.
Johnny Vizcaino is a staff reporter at the Daily Lobo. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @thedailyjohnnyv.